Most people like to add a bit of flair to their music, and luckily, nowadays there are plenty of different bits of equipment that you can pick up to do just about anything.
One of the staples for people who enjoy experimenting with sounds is an arpeggiator, also known as an arp.
If you have a bit of music theory knowledge then you might be able to work out what an arp does based on its name alone.
An arpeggio is what you call it when you break a chord down into a sequence of its individual notes, specifically the notes are played in ascending or descending order.
Therefore an arpeggiator is a tool that creates these arpeggios and broken chords automatically and allows the musician to play around with the individual notes that comprise a chord.
What Does An Arpeggiator Allow You To Do?
Early versions of arps most commonly used sequences that followed the triad chord structure of an arpeggio – most chords can be created with just three different notes, which is called a triad chord structure.
However, today’s arpeggiators are able to play so much more than just triad chords. In fact, you can get an arp to cycle through any chord that you want with relative ease.
There are three main parameters that you’ll want to understand in order to get the most out of your arpeggiator. These are the rhythm, the patterns, and the chords.
Playing with the rhythm will allow you to control how fast the arpeggio is playing, but also how it’s playing.
If you usually stick to writing in the classic 4/4, then an arp may allow you to experiment with playing in something like 5/7 or 3/4 with relative ease, and without having to set up a metronome.
This is a great way to add some variety to your musical style as well as letting you play around with things that are usually really difficult to play with.
The pattern is the way in which the arpeggiator cycles through the notes in the given chord.
You’ll be able to change whether it cycles through in an ascending pattern or descending, or whether it goes up and then down in the same cycle.
More sophisticated designs will be able to offer you a more complex set of patterns, or even the ability to program your own.
This is particularly cool because you can create an entire song out of just a few different repeating patterns based on your chord progression.
Once you’ve mastered how to play with the rhythm and the patterns available you’ll be able to start working with all the different chords and chord progressions.
You could spend hours on each chord, figuring out the best sounds and the best patterns for each. Chords can sound completely different in a variety of different arpeggios, so there’s no limit to what you can do and experiment with.
Ideas To Inspire Creativity
There are loads of different ways that you can play around with an arp, but there’s such a thing as choice fatigue.
If you feel like there are just too many different things that you can do that you have no idea where to even begin, then why don’t you check out some of these suggestions:
Arpeggiate Every Chord
Starting off simple, this will allow you to understand how the arp is going to sequence a chord and cycle through the notes.
Starting off with a simple arpeggio on every chord in a sequence is going to give you a great-sounding base to go from to help you get to grips with the equipment as well as show you whether your chords progression sounds good together.
The patterns really are what make synthesized arpeggiators so cool. So pick your favorite chord (mine is GMaj7) and test out all of the different patterns.
You’ll definitely be able to find a particular pattern that fits the tone and style of your track perfectly.
Once you’ve got to grips with the basics of your arp then you can start to play around with more complicated elements, such as the rhythm sequences. This is where arpeggiators start getting really interesting.
Adding elements such as syncopation will give your tracks a more detailed and interesting quality to them, as well as make them stand out more.
You can do this by cutting out a note or two from a sequence of either note.
Experiment with this to find the best rhythms to suit your sound. The arp will make it particularly easy to switch back and forth between different possibilities.
Extend The Range
If you hold down the notes of a chord on your synth’s keys then the arpeggiator will start sequencing the held notes.
But in a lot of arpeggiators, it’s possible to transpose the held notes up or down several octaves to create a sequence that cycles up and down a much larger range of your keyboard.
You’ll need to find the range settings in your arpeggiator’s parameters in order to be able to extend the range available on your arpeggiator.
For example, some arps will allow you to extend the range by 4 octaves.
However, some won’t be able to extend it that much, though some will be able to do more.
An extended range can often result in very beautiful, sweeping arpeggio that can easily give depth to a track so have fun experimenting with it all!
If you’re looking to experiment or add more elements to your music then you should consider either investing in an arpeggiator or seeing if your synth already has arpeggio capabilities.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.